In case you missed it, Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution penned a thoughtful and thought-provoking op-ed in the April 29 Wall St. Journal "The Souls of Black Folk". It links Du Bois’s 1903 book of essays to today’s protest politics.
Simply put, Du Bois’s old school approach of attacking "the color line" by emphasizing "white responsibility for racial reform" ensures that "blacks are always victims," at least in the public mindset and unfortunately among many blacks themselves. Witness the hue and cry on display at last month’s Supreme Court oral arguments on affirmative action: there, college protesters feared that a color-blind world would somehow prevent minorities from getting into college.
Steele argues that the "dilemma of protest" is "if it wins us freedom, it ill prepares us for it." Linking "black problems" to "white burdens" only reinforces the racist paradigm of white supremacy. The just claims of racial minorities must therefore be pursued in a manner consistent with their own individual freedom and character. This means they themselves must be what Steele calls the "transformative agent" in their own freedom and prosperity.
What Steele identifies as "the problem of emergence" for those taking their initial steps of freedom will not be solved by "the easy dignity of racial militancy." (Not a bad phrase; kind of like "the soft bigotry of low expectations" that Bush lamented was taking place in the schools of many depressed neighborhoods.) Freedom requires effort on every individual’s part to exercise responsibility. Instead of looking to Du Bois, we do better to study the words and emulate the deeds of other great Americans, like Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington. Their lives give noble guidance on how to live as free men and women and ultimately bridge America’s racial divide.